Even though UFC 229 is a virtual lock to be the biggest pay-per-view in UFC history, the ratings for the prelims on FS 1 did not set records.
The show averaged 1,308,000 viewers, the best number in almost two years. The last show to beat this figure was UFC 207, the Australia show headlined by Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm, which did 1,511,000 for the prelims. It was the 11th most-watched prelims in FS 1 history.
Prior to Saturday, the prelims prior to UFC pay-per-views were averaging 732,000 viewers in 2018.
The show also averaged 26,819 streaming. This meant roughly two percent of viewers in the U.S. streamed the show, a percentage slightly higher than usual for UFC programming.
What is notable is that Rousey vs. Holm was estimated at doing 1.1 million pay-per-view buys, and early indications are that the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor-led pay-per-view will do well above two million viewers. That means the UFC 229 drew far more of a casual audience there to see a big fight as opposed to an MMA fan base that came in large numbers for a Rousey fight, but was there to watch an entire five-hour show.
That has been the historical pattern for McGregor, that on shows he headlines, the percentage of the pay-per-view viewers that night that start early to watch the prelims is often significantly lower than average.
The prelims were only the sixth most-watched sports event during that time slot on Saturday night. The most-watched was the New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox playoff game on TBS that did 5,059,000. Also beating UFC’s prelims were college football on ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2 and FOX, the biggest being the Notre Dame vs Virginia Tech game on ABC that did 4,473,000 viewers.
Coming off all the main event controversy, the post-fight show started on FS 2 and then moved to FS 1. It did 151,000 viewers on FS 2, a record number for a post-fight show on the station. Even with starting late, the post-fight show did 364,000 viewers on FS 1, the sixth best in history.
The pre-fight show, starting 20 minutes late due to football going long, did 373,000 viewers, the 16th best for such a show on FS 1.